WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has set out a series of steps to reinvigorate the stalled peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban, according to a letter from Blinken to President Ashraf Ghani published by Afghanistan’s TOLONews.
The letter sets out four key points to help bring an end to the war that began in 2001 when a U.S.-led coalition drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. About 2,500 U.S. troops remain in the country leading a coalition of allied forces, now mainly in training and anti-terrorism operations.
Word of the letter comes days after reports emerged that the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, had suggested a new format for determining the country’s political future during his visit to Kabul last week.
Khalilzad also stopped in Qatar — where Afghan government officials and a Taliban delegation have been holding peace talks since September.
The State Department did not confirm the Blinken letter or details of a new Khalilzad proposal, saying in an e-mail to RFE/RL that “as a general matter, we do not comment on alleged correspondence with foreign leaders.”
“Ambassador Khalilzad’s trip represents a continuation of American diplomacy in the region.”
“We have not made any decisions about our force posture in Afghanistan after May 1. All options remain on the table,” it added.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has begun a review of its strategy for Afghanistan. That includes the agreement reached with the Taliban a year ago that paved the way for the ongoing peace talks.
Under that agreement, U.S. forces are set to withdraw by May, but a surge in fighting in past months has sparked concerns that a speedy exit may spark greater bloodshed and chaos.
The Blinken letter calls for bringing the two sides together for a UN-organized summit with foreign ministers and envoys from the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, and India “to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.”
It also called for Khalilzad to share written proposals with Ghani and Taliban leaders “aimed at accelerating discussions on a negotiated settlement and cease-fire.”
Blinken also pressed for talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban in a senior-level meeting in Turkey in coming weeks to finalize a peace agreement. Blinken urged Ghani or his “authoritative designees” to attend the meeting.
He also said there would be a revised proposal prepared for 90-day reduction in violence “to prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban … to coincide with diplomatic efforts to support a political settlement between the two parties.”
Blinken stressed to Ghani the urgency of accepting the proposals and emphasized his concerns over the security situation in Afghanistan
“Even with the continuation of financial assistance from the United States to your forces after an American military withdrawal, I am concerned that the security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains,” Blinken wrote.
Many people in the United States have grown weary of the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan and have called for full a withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Others warn that a total pullout could hand the Taliban leverage in dealings with the Western-backed Kabul government and betray the sacrifices made by U.S. forces during the long conflict.